ROME — Italy’s commitment to the F-35 fighter jet may be in doubt, as an Italian political party which has promised to scrap the program edges closer to power.

Italy held elections March 4 ,which handed no party a clear victory, ushering in a hung Parliament and weeks of negotiations to build a working coalition.

One of the poorest performers at the polls was the incumbent center-left Democratic Party, which received 19 percent of votes. The strongest performer was the anti-establishment Five Star party, which took 32 percent and has claimed it has the right to form a government.

A coalition of right-wing parties, backed by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, took 37 percent of votes and has said it should be called on by Italy’s president to form a government.

Five Star is reportedly mulling a tie-up with the Democratic Party, which would give the former the numbers to forge a working majority in Parliament.

Formed in 2009 to fight corruption and waste in politics, Five Star officials last year said they would scrap the F-35 program if they took office.

“There will be no ifs or buts about leaving the F-35 program,” Tatiana Basilio, a Five Star member of Parliament, said in May.

Italy is due to purchase 60 F-35As and 30 F-35Bs. The country has already taken delivery of nine F-35As from its own final assembly line at Cameri in northern Italy. Five are now flying from the Italian Air Force’s Amendola Air Base and four are involved in pilot training at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.

On March 1, the F-35s at Amendola were officially declared operational assets within Italy’s air defense system, the Italian Air Force said.

In January, the first F-35B to be assembled outside the U.S., which is destined to fly with the Italian Navy, was handed over to Italy.

Five Star officials have said Italy should be investing in cyberwarfare before footing the bill for traditional offensive weapons like missiles and strike aircraft.

“The central idea is the possibility to shift most of the public investment today used for traditional armament programs into development and research into more modern programs like cyber defense and intelligence,” the party’s defense manifesto states.

“€14 billion [or U.S. $17 billion] for 90 F-35s is too costly, and we are putting ourselves in the hands of the U.S.,” Basilio said in May. “All the software belongs to Lockheed Martin and we will never have a say, while all our pilots and maintenance staff must be trained in the U.S. If we were in government, we would have already closed the program.”

Basilio said Italy should have opted instead to upgrade its Eurofighter aircraft to take on the strike role destined for the F-35.

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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